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Recently I have been involved in setting up a book club. Our first task was to find a book to read that none of us were familiar with. We ended up choosing Now Is the Time to Open Your Heart as we had all heard of Alice Walker and thought this would be an interesting read and provide some good discussion.
Alice Walker was born in 1944. This American author was part of a large family and she grew up in Georgia where her father was a share-cropper. Her mother was particularly concerned that her children should be well-educated and she started writing at an early age. She eventually married a Jewish Civil Rights lawyer and moved to Jackson, Mississippi where they were classified as the first official married mixed race couple in the state. This led to a difficult time and severe harassment, the couple later divorced amicably. This background provided the author with lots of insight into both race and gender issues and this tend s to be where a lot of her work is orientated. In 1983 she won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction with The Color Purple. She has written several novels as well as anthologies of poetry, short stories and some non-fiction work. This particular book was published here in 2004.
Kate Nelson is a successful author with a colourful relationship background. She has always been a woman keen on adventure and she becomes obsessed with the idea of a river that she keeps dreaming about. She was what her lover would describe as "New-age" and so he is not surprised when she embarks on a river trip on the Colorado. This does not provide Kate with the release she is seeking so eventually she heads to the Amazon for a more profound experience. Here the distance from everything she knows and the ability to concentrate on her own thoughts provides her with the opportunity to make connections with Mother Earth, the local Shaman assists the process.
Meanwhile Yolo, who is Kates lover goes on a journey of his own to Hawaii. There he confronts a different way of life and witnesses things that he has never seen before. What effect will this have on him and will there ever be a way forward with his relationship with Kate?
This book is mainly written in the third person although there are odd extracts relating to Mother Earth that are written as if this is a person and she is speaking. The storyline does tend to jump around a lot and it can be quite difficult to follow in parts.
I actually found that I didn't enjoy the storyline at all. I read this just after I had seen a television programme about the Amazon so the use of hallucinogenic drugs and purging drafts was something I was familiar with so that part was quite easy to understand.
I think I may have had a problem with the book because I could not find any common ground with the main character, I couldn't understand her restlessness or her motivation. I felt that she wasn't particularly well-written and didn't seem to be very three-dimensional to me. I thought the character of Yola was easier to understand and seemed much more "real".
I kept waiting for something interesting to happen that would provide some sort of plotline but I realised part-way through that this was not going to happen, there are a couple of interesting activities in Hawaii but otherwise it was dull.
The way the book is actually written contains a lot of very short sentences and lots of questions which meant it did not flow very easily when you are reading it, which probably didn't help my lack of ability to get engrossed in the story. I think I actually did not understand what was happening some of the time as I couldn't concentrate well on it.
I made myself finish reading this as I hate being beaten by a book. However it really was a trial and as an avid reader it is not often that I can say that I dread picking a book up but this is what happened here. When I arrived at my book club meeting I found that I was the only person who had got to the end! We are quite a mixed bunch and the type of books we each choose to read are very varied so I was surprised that nobody had enjoyed it. I felt as if this was quite a self-indulgent piece of work by the author, I didn't feel as if I was being drawn into the work, I actually felt like I was being excluded from something very private, almost like reading someone's diary.
Strangely, when we talked about this book there was one page which several of us had ear-marked as making sense to us and it related to so many people watching the world out of the side windows of a car rather than looking where they were going. It is odd that out of a 224 page book we all noticed the one page that we understood and could see how it related to the world we live in.
If you are looking for a light read or something with a cracking storyline then this isn't the one for you. However if you are interested in self-reflection and personal analysis then you may find this an interesting read. I am obviously not the right reader for this sort of work and I have since read some rave reviews about it but I am sorry to say it missed the mark completely with me. Its RRP is £6.99 but as with all books it can be found much cheaper on the internet.